Dear CMO:

When was the last time you had to make a complex choice? When did you last go through a competitive bid on a CRM application? Maybe hire an important direct report? Or do an agency review? What about just buying a car, let alone getting one fixed?

“This is the easiest process in the world,” you exclaim, “because the wonderful world wide web is here — at my fingertips — with a host of web 2.0 sites and services that not only show me what’s out there in incredibly fine detail, but rate them!” Point, click and ship. It’s that easy.

But it’s not, is it? The blessing of the web hides a curse. We have too much information. We can’t choose any easier than the poor shopper at the supermarket looking at a full 40 foot section of breakfast cereal can. There are too many applications, applicants, agencies, cars and repair shops to choose from. Even LinkedIn has been polluted with people who I don’t… exactly… know, but who I’m linked to for some reason.

So what do you do? Do you look at ratings on Amazon? Do you read what experts have to say in Consumer Reports? Maybe, but the real answer is probably ‘no’ on both. You ask someone you know, the person gives you a recommendation, and that’s what you end up doing. End of story. Sure, there’s wiggle room on both sides and you might choose to do something else, but you start with the safest choice. We do this because we’re human, we’re gregarious animals, we are attention constrained, and we don’t like too many choices.

Social networking has arisen because the web has given us too many choices. Bombarded by too much stimulation, we looked around at our multiple screens of real time mobile web-streaming RSS feeds and we ran like hell 180 degrees in the other direction to that no-tech thing called ‘word of mouth’. And the more hyper-automation and complexity we add to social networking, the more we distrust it. Too much information. Just tell me what you think I should do.

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Key Takeaways:

> The amount of information and the number of choices is correlated to the need for simplified social networking. The more choices you have and the more overload you’re faced with will proportionally cause your headache to grow, pushing you towards your cousin who knows a great body shop.

> Give your bias a name so you can avoid it. Let’s assume that bias is bad and that choices are ultimately good, if inconvenient. Like the Biblical, “get thee behind me, Devil,” one must first identify the presence of bias before it can be effectively dismissed. Once you’ve called it out, you can move on. Eliminating bias is probably the most effective psychological tool in your toolbox. And the hardest to use, too.

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It’s interesting to observe how we counterbalance different forces in our lives. We cheer on an upstart company or a team only to turn on them when they become successful. As Americans, we always seem to lose interest in a political party after six years. And when we’re faced with technology on a daily basis, we feel a need to balance it with something altogether organic, whether it’s sourdough or Little League.

We all have to judge for ourselves whether the balance is healthy and good.


Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Denny